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House Member Shot; 6 Killed

Ariz. sheriff denounced vitriolic politics after a gunman killed a federal judge and left 13 wounded.

Arizona Federal District Judge John Roll (left) was killed and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (right) was wounded in a shooting on Saturday. (AP File Photos)
Arizona Federal District Judge John Roll (left) was killed and Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (right) was wounded in a shooting on Saturday. (AP File Photos)Read more

TUCSON, Ariz. - U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shot in the head Saturday by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store during a meeting with voters, killing a federal judge and five others in a rampage that rattled the country and left Americans questioning whether divisive politics had pushed the suspect over the edge.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Giffords was the target of a gunman whom he described as mentally unstable and possibly acting with an accomplice. He said Giffords was among 13 people wounded in the shooting, which killed six people, including Arizona's chief federal judge, a 9-year-old girl, and an aide for the Democratic lawmaker. He said the rampage ended after two people tackled the gunman.

Doctors said they were optimistic that Giffords would survive, as she was responding to commands from doctors despite having a bullet go through her head. "With guarded optimism, I hope she will survive, but this is a very devastating wound," said Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general, who lives in Tucson.

Dupnik pointed to the vitriolic political rhetoric that has consumed the country as he denounced the shooting, which claimed several of his friends as victims, including U.S. District Judge John M. Roll. Roll attended Mass on Saturday morning, as he does every day, before stopping by to say hello to his good friend Giffords.

"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Reaction to the shooting rippled across the country as Americans were aghast at the sight of such a violent attack on a sitting member of Congress. The shooting cast a pall over the Capitol as politicians of all stripes denounced the shooting as a horrific and senseless act of violence. President Obama dispatched his FBI director to Arizona.

Capitol police asked members of Congress to be more vigilant about security after the shooting, and some politicians expressed hope that the killings will serve as a wake-up call at a time when the political climate has become so emotionally charged.

"It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country," Obama declared.

Giffords, 40, is a moderate three-term Democrat who narrowly won reelection in November against a tea-party candidate as conservatives across the country sought to throw her from office over her support of the health-care law.

Police said the suspect was in custody, and people familiar with the investigation identified him as Jared L. Loughner, 22. Pima County sheriff's officials said he used a 9mm pistol to carry out the attack.

The motive for the attack was unclear, but a former classmate called Loughner a pot-smoking loner who had rambling beliefs about the world. The Army said he tried to enlist in December 2008 but was rejected. It did not say why.

Giffords spokesman C.J. Karamargin said three Giffords staffers were shot. One died, and the others are expected to survive. Gabe Zimmerman, a former social worker who served as Giffords' director of community outreach, died.

Giffords was first elected to Congress amid a wave of Democratic victories in 2006 and has been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate in 2012 and a gubernatorial prospect in 2014.

Giffords is married to astronaut Mark E. Kelly, who has piloted the space shuttles Endeavour and Discovery. Sen. Bill Nelson, chairman of the Senate Commerce, space and science subcommittee, said Kelly was training to be the next commander of the space shuttle mission scheduled for April. His brother is serving aboard the International Space Station, Nelson said.

Giffords, known as "Gabby," tweeted shortly before the shooting, describing her "Congress on Your Corner" event: "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later."

Obama said: "It's not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does, listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is about."

Giffords has drawn the ire of the right in the last year, including from politicians such as Sarah Palin, over her support of the health-care bill.

Law enforcement officials said members of Congress reported 42 cases of threats or violence in the first three months of 2010, nearly three times the 15 cases reported during the same period a year earlier. Nearly all dealt with the health bill, and Giffords was among the targets.

Palin listed Giffords' seat as one of the top targets in the midterm elections because of the lawmaker's support for the health-care law.

Giffords said in an interview with MSNBC that "we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realize that there are consequences to that action."

Palin issued a statement after the shooting expressing her "sincere condolences" to the families of Giffords and the other victims.

The shooting occurred at the La Toscana Village shopping center as Giffords met with voters outside a Safeway grocery store.

Mark Kimball, a communications staffer for Giffords, described the scene as "just complete chaos, people screaming, crying." The gunman fired at Giffords and her district director and started shooting indiscriminately at staffers and others standing in line to talk to Giffords, Kimball said.


her centrist stance. A16.